By Larry Peterson
A stranger named Francis Delalieu
Servant of God and Stigmatic, Louise Lateau, was born on January 29, 1850, in Belgium. She passed away at the age of thirty-three. But this story is not about Louise. It is about a stranger who came and stayed for more than two years. He saved not only Louise’s life but the lives of her mother and two sisters. His name was Francis Delalieu.
The Lateau family was literally near death. The father, Gregory, had died from smallpox just three months after Louise had been born. Adele, with three little children, was still bedridden after having a very rough time giving birth to Louise. Louise, still an infant, had also contracted smallpox. The oldest child, three-year-old Rosina, was trying to be the in-house caregiver which included taking care of two-year-old Adelina.
The local doctor, overwhelmed with this smallpox epidemic, had stopped by about a week after Gregory’s death to check on the family. He did his best to show Rosina what to do. He knew it was hopeless and was sure he would soon come by and find them all dead. He told his friend, Francis Delalieu, about the family.
Widowed mom with three babies and no money and all had smallpox
Try to imagine how this newly widowed mother of three babies, with no money, was feeling. The despair and hopelessness must have been unbearable as she watched her three children quietly dying before her eyes. Weakened to a point where she was unable to get out of her bed, she was probably just praying that she would not be the first to die, leaving them alone. And suddenly the front door opened and there was Francis Delalieu. God was listening after all.
Francis immediately took charge. First, he cleaned up the children. Then he reassured them and left to acquire food and necessities. This man, this stranger, surely had the love of Jesus in his heart. He was risking his own life by being in a smallpox-infected household. He was spitting into the eye of the storm as he cleaned, fed and cared for the little children. This was, after all 1850, and not the twenty-first century. They did not even have running water.
Depending on circumstances being a caregiver can be a monumental challenge
I have been (as have many others) a primary caregiver to someone seriously ill. Some caregivers are helping to nurse their loved one back to health after a serious surgery or accident. The upside to this type of caregiving is that an end is in sight because a reachable goal is possible ie. recovering from open heart surgery.
Then there is the alternative of caring for someone who is terminally ill. The goal in these cases is to help your loved one live as peacefully and as comfortable as possible until God calls them home. And then you have a person like Francis Delalieu. The only possible motivation he might have had was to be filled with the love of a Good Samaritan. There was no family connection. There were “no strings attached”. He simply LOVED his neighbor. It follows that, foremost, he LOVED God with his whole mind, heart, and soul.
Who was Francis Delalieu?
Who was this man? Who was this stranger who came into a household that was a breeding ground for smallpox and had three babies with a bedridden mom living there and all were near death? Who does this kind of thing simply out of kindness and compassion? Who would stay for almost two and a half years until the mother and children were once again healthy? Francis Delalieu is that person. There are many like him and many are unheralded and unheard of.
The only information available about Francis Delalieu is that he was a farmhand or a laborer and that he lived in or around the small town of Bois d’ Haine, in Belgium. It is known he took Adele Lateau and her children under his care and nurtured them until they were well. After that and sometime during 1853, Fraancis seems to have vanished.
Anna Louise Lateau was gifted with the Stigmata in the year 1868. For the rest of her life, her nourishment was only the Holy Eucharist and a few glasses of water per day. She became one of the most famous stigmatists of the 19th century. Francis Delalieu, was an unknown man who stepped up and took care of his neighbor just like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. I am sure his reward has been great in heaven. When God is involved, all things are possible.
Copyright©Larry Peterson 2023